Do advanced yoga poses matter?

Does it really matter if you can put your legs behind your head or grab your ankles in a backbend? Will your life be enhanced? Will you be a better person? Why do you do yoga? People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons and you may find your reasons changing with time, I do.  So keep asking.

Sometimes you may get frustrated with your lack of flexibility. This may happen whether you are already flexible or not. When you are practicing yoga asana you are working with your tight edges, playing with them, exploring them. You may do yoga to become more flexible.  That’s fair enough, you’re in the right place. As you learn to accept your body as it is, you will feel so much better about it.

If you are tight you might find that tightness causes discomfort in your body.  As you work gently and repeatedly on this area you may find that you can feel better than you have ever imagined. There is a certain amount of flexibility that is functional, that helps you move about, that helps work against all those hours sat in front of your computer. Yoga is great for your body, it can do so much more.

Helen doing yoga pose supta kurmasana

Supta Kurmasana – sleeping tortoise a challenging yoga pose which became possible after years of practice

I taught my beginners a very challenging pose on Monday.  I showed them how to get into it gently and they had a go, they are great like that, very willing explorers.  We talked about it, they wanted to see me doing the full version of the pose, supta kurmasana. I don’t demonstrate that much, I don’t want to overwhelm people but they were very keen so I showed them.  Here is a photo for those of you who weren’t there.

And then one of my students asked what the benefit of that pose was?  Such a great question! One of my favourite things about being a teacher is the questions. I said that to me it was a very quietening pose, the pose name means sleeping tortoise and it’s like going into a tortoise shell, some people don’t like it because of that.  I am sure I could look in a yoga book and find a list of benefits but I always like to teach from my own experience so I did. I’m not sure if that is exactly what she meant, I could be wrong.. but I think that she wanted to know the benefit for the body.

The truth is I don’t think that it’s necessary to be that flexible. I shared with my students that it took me many years of daily practice to be able to do that pose.  It wasn’t easy.  It is now but thats because I put my legs behind my head every day . Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  What were the benefits to me?  I am glad you asked!

  • There will always be things that seem impossible in life, it’s great to learn to work at them regardless in an safe environment where it doesn’t ultimately matter if I fail.
  • Attempting seemingly impossible things keeps my ego in check
  • It took years but I did it and it made me feel like I could do anything if I persevered
  • Doing something challenging forces me to become aware of my body, bringing me more into the present moment
  • It makes me accept where I am not where I want to be

The truth is you could apply these lessons to any yoga pose, it doesn’t matter what is challenging to you, it doesn’t have to be an advanced yoga pose. Whatever challenges you, here is a place you can learn. What can be problematic is if you don’t stop to enjoy the journey, if you forget that you were really practicing yoga to relax and that instead it has become another way to compete with yourself.  Those of us who find time to practice on our yoga mats are privileged I think.  It is a wonderful opportunity to connect and accept yourself.  To get away from the hustle and bustle of life and just see how you feel today.  So yes work on something impossible, go for it, I love a good challenge but don’t lose perspective.  Being more flexible doesn’t make you better at yoga, being more accepting does.

What yoga pose seems impossible for you right now? Do you enjoy working at it or do you find it frustrating?  Why do you practice yoga and have your reasons changed?

About Helen Aldred

Helen Aldred practices and teaches ashtanga yoga in Liverpool. She loves to share and discuss yoga, as well as health and wellbeing. Follow her on twitter and join Ashtanga yoga Liverpool’s Facebook community .

Comments

  1. Edna Aldred says:

    I do admire your dedication and I’m so proud of you. x x

  2. Aww shucks, thanks Mum and thanks for ongoing and awesome support you’re a star x

  3. Flexibility gives me an overwhelming sense of freedom, associated with my body, that i get when i move without restriction from my body. I believe that if unless one has a physical problem or injury, that we all have the potential on this journey to achieve mobility. Some people’s journey may require a slower start, or greater plan of understanding of the journey at hand, while travelling on this journey, but ultimately this is a journey of self understanding of the microcosms of our own body. The more we pay attention to the little details and understand our own body’s restrictions, feels and tightness, the better we are at resolving these issues, so they are not restricted and more free.
    It’s overwhelming clear to me that the more we understand and look after ourselves from inside out, the happier and better we treat our surroundings if we are free from our personal body problems, issues, pains and aches.
    Through practice, patience, practice and understanding, we can achieve within ourselves something that can resonate throughout the rest of our daily life.

  4. Hi E,

    So nice to hear about how much yoga has benefited you. I can relate as I am sure others can, thanks for sharing, Helen.

  5. Mysore classes are definitely the place to learn the more challenging postures like Supta Kurmasana, I never believed I would ever do that. As a student I’ve enjoyed an enormous sense of achievement when they finally happen, often when you least expect and in some cases when I’ve given up hope of ever doing them. Of course once you do one there is always another lurking round the corner, but having achieved once it gives you the belief that you can do it again. It’s not just flexibility, but it also balances strength in the body, the non dominant and usually weaker side starts to catch up.

    I’m sure your demonstration will inspire your students to attempt Supta Kurmasana and in a few weeks or maybe months some of them will experience the joy of their fingers joining up as their feet cross. Everyone is different, one persons advanced posture is another’s easy bind.

    I’ve been stuck at my posture (Bhekasana) for over a year now, though some of that is beyond my control, but I’m still amazed I’ve even got this far.

  6. Lovely post. I was fortunate to be one of those students present at class when we had a go at sleeping tortoise…..and…well….I couldn’t believe how much I managed to do. This not my ego talking……if I can just explain – during class I really DO find myself in the present moment. Just THERE. So when we attempted this asana I didn’t really think or worry I couldn’t do it…I just stayed in the moment, breathed, followed your instruction, and found my shoulders behind and under my legs. It was only later I realised how deep into this asana I had gone – and it is just as Kevin commented….I was amazed I had gotten that far. It really is true about perserverence and patience. There is no rush, and we must always be in acceptance of where our bodies are at in the present time. I think we all, at some point ( and only being human!) wish we were able to bind our bodies more or do some of the more advanced postures effortessly, and who knows, one day we may be able to….or…we may never not – but it is (and as you said Helen) the acceptance of ourselves that enables us to relax and surrender to the possibilities that lie ahead. We must always try to remember too…..that there is so much more to yoga than just asana.

    Enjoyed this post and welcome the exploration of deeper asanas in the near future!

  7. Hi Kevin and Jules,

    Thanks so much for your lovely comments! It is amazing what becomes possible with dedication. Jules, I love what you say about being so in the moment that you just did it withouth thinking. That is yoga….Glad you enjoyed the class.

  8. Lovely article, I agree with what you say.

    However I have a question about putting your legs behind your head. How do we know if that is right for our particular bone structure at the hip joint? I have read that many yogis are now having to have hip replacements from poses like sleeping tortoise where the hips are behind the head. I have read that even if you work up to it slowly over time you can overstretch and even thin out the hip flexors ultimately created hip pain and the need for a hip replacement.

    I think for some people these poses may be fine but for others it may not be so great.

    What do you think about this topic?

  9. Hi Gayle,

    I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    I have not seen any evidence that placing the leg behind the head leads to an increased likelyhood of hip replacement. It is of course possible to overstretch and these positions should be approached with care. What you say about the hip flexors does not make sense anatomically so I am not sure where you heard that.

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